Las Vegas Sun

May 17, 2021

Currently: 64° — Complete forecast

Where I Stand:

UNLV affords opportunities to be leaders


Josh Hawkins / UNLV Photo Services

UNLV President Keith Whitfield poses for a photo on campus Thursday, July 23, 2020. Whitfield is the 11th permanent president of UNLV.

Editor’s note: As he does every August, Brian Greenspun is turning over his Where I Stand column to others. Today’s guest is Keith E. Whitfield, the new president of UNLV.

As I complete my first full week as president of UNLV, I’ve had the privilege of hearing from many students, faculty, staff and community members who have shared kind words of support as I start my new journey.

That also includes my mother, of course. When she first learned that I had gotten the job, she screamed for joy louder than I can ever remember. She knows about UNLV and is familiar with Las Vegas. Whether a longtime member of the community or a new resident like myself, we all share an excitement for what UNLV represents and can be, and I thank you for your outreach.

It is an incredible honor to be the 11th president of UNLV and, other than getting used to the heat (people keep telling me it’s a dry heat!), I think Southern Nevada is beautiful. I am extremely enthusiastic about joining this outstanding institution, in a world-renowned city admired for its ingenuity and audacity.

The university experience will be different this fall. We have many challenges ahead as a university, but from my perspective — and one of the reasons I was so interested in this position — we have an opportunity at UNLV to be leaders in teaching, research, inclusion and equity, and social change. Our status as one of the most diverse campuses in the country, that is also a top research university, only strengthens our ability to provide a world-class education.

We also have an important role in helping the state address its workforce needs and expand its economic development efforts. Now more than ever, it’s critical UNLV reinforce its commitment as a community partner. One example is the Nevada Small Business Development Center at UNLV. It’s a statewide resource that provides a unique array of business services, expertise and training in all areas related to starting, growing and developing a company. The center recently worked closely with Clark County to review applications and counsel small businesses that did not receive Economic Injury Disaster Loans or Paycheck Protection Program grants from the federal government.

Another exciting and recent community partnership involves an initiative with the Ted and Doris Lee Foundation to promote the UNLV Lee Business School Prize for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The Lee Foundation is funding $1 million for kick-start development of innovations to rapidly address the urgent problems facing the hospitality, entertainment and travel industries resulting from COVID-19. The winners should be announced in October.

Finally, Black Fire Innovation — which launched last April — is a real-life living lab and business incubator designed to spark strategic industry partnerships, advance research and elevate student learning and entrepreneurship. Black Fire Innovation has attracted corporate sponsors and collaborations with Caesars Entertainment, Panasonic, LG, Intel, Adobe, Nutanix, Boyd Gaming, Activate, UMG Gaming and Salesforce.

Growing our research profile also will help the state, Las Vegas community, industry and residents. Research is central to Nevada’s economic recovery and sustainability, increasing the availability of good-paying jobs and the secondary industries that support them. Researchers at UNLV are fellow Nevadans working to address the problems of the state, the country and the world.

Universities must be willing to listen, to collaborate and to adapt. That’s been especially critical the last several months as we’ve navigated through the pandemic. Being agile needs to be our normal way of thinking, not just a one-off. Our outstanding faculty and staff have adapted the learning experience for this fall. But regardless of the current situation or any other challenges we’ll face in the future, we will ensure our students have the support they need not only to achieve but to thrive.

That commitment begins before students ever arrive at UNLV. Strengthening and expanding our partnership with the Clark County School District is essential. It provides continuity as students transition from high school to college and helps them to be better prepared when they arrive at UNLV or whatever college they choose.

Recently, UNLV’s Educational Policy and Leadership program partnered with CCSD to increase the number of effective school and program leaders in Southern Nevada. School district administrators assist in various stages of our master’s program admission process, and they also serve as mentors once students are selected. The mentors, which include local principals, engage with the students to get them acquainted with the district and to offer support and direction on school-based projects as our students train to become Nevada’s future education leaders.

The Rebel Science Camp is an outreach program offered annually by faculty and student leaders in the College of Sciences at UNLV. The program began in 2017 as a way to bring STEM education to young learners in some of the highest-need schools in Clark County. During the half-day event, elementary school students engage in science-based activities taught by UNLV students. The exercises introduce students to different fields of the natural sciences and promote critical thinking. These two programs, and many more, demonstrate our ability to create solutions for students to succeed and learn.

Over the next few months, I will be listening and observing a lot as I learn more about Southern Nevada and our state. I want to send a special thanks to President Marta Meana, her predecessors and the community at large. Each has played a pivotal role to help this university evolve, grow and become great. The achievements to date have been remarkable, and the dedication and commitment to excellence is inspiring. There has been tremendous momentum generated because of the collective efforts by many. I share your passion and your commitment to UNLV!